As we detailed last week, speed work – especially strength work – doesn’t have to be on the track. But after a few weeks of building strength off the track, it’s advisable to go to a track and aim for a certain time to run for a specific distance.
What I suggest is base everything on your 200-meter split which you should know like the back of your hand for just about any race you would ever run. Think of it this way: In a marathon, you run 200 meters 211 times so you better pick a split you can run that many times without a break for MGP.
For example, if someone has a 3:30 marathon goal, that means the 200-meter split is 60 seconds for MGP. About six seconds faster, or 54 seconds, should give the proper 10-K pace and another two seconds faster, or 52, for 5-K. An all-out mile race pace for this 3:30 marathoner would be another two seconds quicker per 200, or 50 seconds.
These splits are good rules of thumb to follow even though everyone is different. Some may find the faster and shorter race paces easier and struggle a little more holding pace for a marathon. The important thing is that you have some numbers to aim for as you start the strength work on the track. You can always adjust the splits as you get more races under your belt.
A typical strength workout would be 400-meter repeats at 10-K effort with only a 100-meter jog recovery in between each repeat. As you’re getting started, 8-10 of these should be enough, but as the season goes along you can eventually build up to 12-16 repeats. Obviously, it’s critically important to know the pace you want to hit before you begin. Our 3:30 marathoner, for example, shoots for 54 seconds per 200 for 10-K effort, so that would be 1:48 (54 seconds per 200) for the 400.
Don’t worry about the time it takes for a recovery jog, but you should be OK with keeping it at a minute or less. If this is too much of a struggle, you may want to adjust the 10-K effort, or call it a day. Not every workout is going to go perfectly be pristine and it is far better to call one off than push through a workout that gets slower and slower.
Another good strength speed session is to work on 5-K pace. Do a couple of sets of 4×300 at 5-K effort with a 100-meter jog recovery and a full lap jog between sets. Our 3:30 marathoner shoots for 1:18 in these. Do this workout a couple of times before you add a third set. You don’t have to keep the speed pace the same during the workout. Try 12×200 with a 100 jog, but alternate the pace, doing one at 5-K effort followed by one at 10-K effort, back and forth until you get to 12. Our 3:30 marathoner will alternate between 54 and 52 seconds here, ending up doing six of each. Again, you will build up to do more of these, up to a total of 16 or even 20 repeats.
Longer repeats are good strength builders, too. Here, you can take longer recovery because the hard effort is sufficiently long to challenge your breathing and leg strength, in essence like doing the shorter repeats but taking out the 100 jog. A classic marathon workout is 800-meter repeats. The idea is to run the 800s at the time you are shooting for in your marathon. So, if you want to run the marathon in 3:30, then you run the 800 in 3:30, jog a lap in about the same amount of time and repeat up to 8-10.
You can make this workout 1000 meters (4:30 for our 3:30 marathoner) with a 600 jog and build from four repeats up to seven of these to get ready for the marathon. Or, you can go a little faster than a jog on the recovery and make the recovery an MGP effort for 1000 meters. The 1000/1000 workout is born of the Russian national team and the key Team Mac workout, where you run 1000 meters at 10-K effort followed immediately by 1000 meters at MGP. Then, without a rest, you return to 10-K effort for 1000 meters, followed immediately by 1000 meters at MGP, so forth and so on.
If that sounds tough – it is – but your body will adjust. Start off with three or four of these and gradually build up to six or seven.
Anything over 1000 meters, and you may want to leave the track and go back to the trail, road or grass for speed work. Mile repeats can be done at slightly faster than MGP and throw in a hill during the mile for an extra challenge. There’s nothing wrong with doing mile repeats on the track, but it’s easier mentally running a loop or out-and-back off the track.
As you get stronger, you can increase the number of repeats from week to week, but every third week, give yourself a break by not doing any speed work or doing only a moderately difficult speed workout. The moderate workout would be running MGP or increasing the rest in some 10-K repeats. One speed day per week is usually sufficient, but if you can handle two, then be careful not to do both as extremely challenging efforts. How you feel on your next speed workout will tell you if you need to take it easy on the speed for more recovery.
Also, as you increase the quantity of the speed work, you will concurrently increase easy runs and total weekly mileage. One fun way to do this is by a second workout the day of the speed work. Go out for an easy jog of only three or four miles. It builds your mileage–endurance–and it is a relaxing way to stay loose on a speed day.
Mac Allen coaches Team Mac (www.teammac.co) for racing in distances from 800 meters to the ultra marathon. A top-flight masters competitor, Mac has over 15 years of coaching runners of every level.